One of India’s most accomplished cinematographers Baba Azmi’s directorial debut MeeRaqsam about a sprightly young Muslim girl’s determination to learn Bharat Natyam has won for Baba the Best Debut Director at the just-concluded Indian Film Festival Of Ireland in Dublin .Sister Shabana Azmi and brother-in-law Javed Akhtar just can’t stop preening. Says Shabana, “I am extremely happy but its Javed who is behaving like a PROUDY and smiling away saying . ‘Yeh film bahut achchi hain aur mujhe yaqeen tha goti sahi khaane mein pahunchihai!’ He is hosting a small lunch at home today for the family .Baba is underplaying as is his wont but my sister-in-law Tanve is thrilled !There is something about the film that has touched hearts and its received rave reactions from people as diverse as Shyam Benegal and David Dhawan. MeeRaqsam is a film that would have made our father Kaifi very proud. The film was launched in Mijwan on his birthday in his birth centenary year . There can be no greater tribute paid by a son to his father.”
Shy reticent filmmaker Baba Azmi says, “Everything just fell into place.The key cast simply fell into place. Naseerudin Shah, a dear friend, was my first and only choice of the cleric’s role. We’ve known each other for 30 years. I was the cinematographer in his starrers Woh 7 Din and Bezubaan. We’ve remained friends. So when I asked him I wasn’t surprised when he said yes.”
Naseer shot for Mee Raqsam in extreme pain.
Recalls Baba emotionally, “ Naseer was in no condition to shoot. He was suffering from a severe back problem, so severe he couldn’t sit and had to take a nap standing.In that condition he travelled to Mijwan(the Azmis’native village where Mee Raqsam was shot). Imagine travelling from Varanasi to Mijwan by car in that condition! The minute Naseer arrived he wanted to start shooting. His enthusiasm was infectious.”
Finding the child actor Aditi Subedi who plays the other protagonist was far more difficult.
Says Baba, “I needed a child who was an actor and a Bharat Natyam dancer. Aditi had no experience in either field. But she idolized my sister Shabana and had told her she wanted to be an actor like her. I auditioned several girls but the minute I sawAditi I knew I had found my heroine Mariam. I gave her some scenes to read and she was magical. As for the dancing we hired a Bharat Natyam teacher Deepali Salil. We gave her three months to train Aditi. But she said it won’t be enough. Poor Aditi worked really hard. She was in Mumbai staying with us.She would go into a corner and cry over her bruised swollen knees. But she never complained .She was afraid I’d put her on the first plane back to Mijwan.She and her screen-father Danish Hussain are exceptional.”
Mee Raqsam touches on the sensitive issue of a Muslim girl’s determination to learn BharatNatyam.
He sighs, “Mee Raqsam was born out of a spirit of harmony and peace. It is inspired by my father(Kaifi Azmi) secular ideology in life. It teaches us the value of cultural assimilation. My film was born out of a feeling of harmony, not hatred and strife.”